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William Richard Johnson Papers

Call Number: RG 6

Scope and Contents

The first series, CORRESPONDENCE, is divided into two sections:


CORRESPONDENCE: FAMILY, dating from 1836 to 1966, includes the correspondence of many family members and gives detailed information about their activities. The letters, most of which are addressed to William and Ina Johnson, express the closeness of the family and in later years indicate an interest in preserving family records. The lives of the Johnson children are particularly elucidated by the correspondence, including their reactions to events in which they were involved and their reactions to their father's activities. The completeness and honesty of the family correspondence is very notable. Letters written regarding the settlement of Mrs. Johnson's estate after her death in 1963 reveal the misunderstanding, bitterness, and complications which emerged as Mr. Johnson worked out an agreeable solution. The family correspondence is also useful for the insights and observations about China which it includes. For example, in the spring of 1920 when Johnson was in New York during their furlough, he wrote to his wife concerning his conversation with the son of Bishop W.S. Lewis of China, referring to the difficulties blocking their return to China and conflicts encountered in China in the past.

CORRESPONDENCE: GENERAL (1852-1966) includes business as well as personal correspondence. Letters from college, missionary, and Chinese friends of William R. Johnson continue throughout. Johnson's work and involvements are highly visible through the correspondence. Perhaps the most significant period in the correspondence is the years spent in China (1906-1942) . Johnson's detailed letters to his Bishops (in turn: James W. Bashford, L.J. Birney, Herbert Welch and W.E. Hammaker) describe financial, property, and mission matters, some relating to the annual conferences. Of particular interest is Johnson's involvement in the purchase of some land for the Methodist mission between the years 1912-1917 which eventually led to a court case. Johnson's relationship with Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek is also revealed in the correspondence. He receives correspondence from Madame Chiang Kai-shek in 1934 and 1938, as well as several notes from her secretary. Johnson writes of his Plan for Rural Reconstruction in June 1933 and in 1927, 1938 and 1939 writes describing war conditions and refugee work.

During the years after his return from China the correspondence reflects Johnson's deep commitment to fighting communism. His conservative political concerns are very evident in correspondence with congressmen, senators, to the President of the United States, to magazine editors and church dignitaries. Letters regarding Johnson's publications and efforts to find financial backing for the mailing activities related to his political concerns are included in the correspondence. Notable in this section is Johnson's correspondence with Alfred Kohlberg regarding the American China Policy Association, with which Johnson was associated from 1945-1960, serving on its Board of Directors for several years.

Johnson also exchanges letters with former students and friends in China such as C.K. Shaw, principal of the Nanchang Academy. Personal and printed newsletters from fellow missionaries are also included.

  1. Abraham Lincoln National Republican Club
  2. American China Policy Association
  3. American Friends of the Captive Nations
  4. American Friends of Vietnam
  5. American Jewish League Against Communism
  6. American Mercury
  7. American Way
  8. Association of Citizens' Councils
  9. China Bulletin
  10. Chinese News Service
  11. Christian Beacon
  12. Christian Children's Fund
  13. Christian Educational Association
  14. Christian Freedom Foundation
  15. Christian Herald
  16. Christian National Crusade
  17. Church League of America
  18. Circuit Riders, Inc.
  19. Citizens' Council
  20. Citizens' Foreign Aid Committee
  21. Committee of One Million
  22. Committee for Constitutional Government
  23. Committee for the Preservation of State and Local Government
  24. Congress of Freedom, Inc.
  25. Constitution Clubs of Illinois
  26. Cosmos Club
  27. Council for Statehood
  28. Defenders of the American Constitution
  29. Embury-Heck Anniversary Committee
  30. Everingham Company
  31. Federation for Constitutional Government
  32. For America
  33. Free China Committee
  34. Free Enterprise
  35. Free Men Speak
  36. Freedom Club
  37. Freedom School, Inc.
  38. "Heads Up"
  39. Human Events
  40. Independent American
  41. International Cooperation Administration
  42. International Council of Christian Churches
  43. John Birch Society
  44. Liberty Lobby
  45. Methodist Challenge
  46. National Conservative Party
  47. National Economic Council, Inc.
  48. National Review
  49. New Leader
  50. News and Views
  51. Ohio Coalition of Patriotic Societies
  52. Operation Brotherhood
  53. Plain Talk
  54. Public Action, Inc.
  55. United States Flag Committee
  56. We, the People
  57. Young Americans for Freedom

The second series, WRITINGS AND PRINTED MATERIAL, is divided into two major categories: works by William R. Johnson and those written by others.

The first category contains a variety of material including translations, reports, bulletins, book reviews, published and unpublished articles and manuscripts, talks, sermons, and memoranda. Included also are some writings by other family members. The various dates of this material provide a key to the subject matter.

The second category contains those writings and printed material which were not written by WRJ, or his family members. This material includes minutes, reports, pamphlets, and journals, sometimes anonymous. Among the most interesting are the China Famine Relief news releases (1928).

The material of the third series, NOTES AND NOTEBOOKS, is varied and includes addresses, a card file, and diaries. The notes are class notes, rough drafts of writings, sermon notes, notes regarding current events, lecture and book notes. Some are written on individual sheets and others are in notebooks. Most of the material is dated. Included also are address lists, diaries, and notes by Ina Buswell Johnson.

FINANCIAL AND LEGAL MATERIAL, the fourth series, is divided between personal and non-personal material. The first category is the personal material of Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, and includes legal documents, bills, bank statements, canceled checks, receipts, tax forms, and daily accounts. This material provides information about the various philanthropic, political, and church-related organizations to which Johnson contributed.

The second category, non-personal material, contains financial and legal material regarding various groups, such as the Methodist Church and China Relief Work, with which Johnson was associated while in China. Budgets, reports, and financial agreements are included.

PERSONAL ITEMS AND MEMORABILIA, the final series, contains biographical and genealogical information regarding the families of Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, as well as a variety of other commemorative material.


  • 1836-1966


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of the Johnson family.


  1. I. Correspondence, 1836-1966, n.d.
  2. II. Writings and Printed Material, 1909-1961
  3. III. Notes and Notebooks, 1887-1966
  4. IV. Financial and Legal Material, 1901-1966
  5. V. Personal Items and Memorabilia, 1878-1966


17.5 Linear Feet (52 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers detail the life and work of William Richard Johnson, most significantly documenting the years he spent in China, 1906-1942. William Richard Johnson was born in 1878 in Cornell, Illinois. He received a B.A. degree from Northwestern University in 1905 and an M.A. degree from Columbia University Teachers College in 1937. In 1906, Johnson sailed for China to serve as a missionary for the Methodist Episcopal Church. In China, he served as a pastor, educator and school administrator. He was active in famine and flood relief work, 1931-1936, and proposed a Rural Reconstruction Program adopted by the central government in 1933. Shortly after becoming the assistant director of the American Red Cross China Relief Unit, Johnson was taken prisoner by the Japanese in 1941. He was exchanged and returned to the United States in 1942. He died in Polo, Illinois on July 19, 1967.

Biographical / Historical

Sarah Esther Husted, mother of William Richard Johnson, born in Indiana and came to Illinois at an early age.
Benjamin R. Johnson, father of William Richard Johnson, born in Ruyville, Ohio; came to Illinois at the age of 2 in a prairie schooner; was a general storekeeper and banker in Cornell, Illinois. (The following are children of Sarah Esther and Benjamin R. Johnson: Estella, b. 1872, d. 1874; Franklin, b. 1874; Sidney Elmer, b. 1881; William Richard, b. 1878, d. 1967; Harry, b. 1883, d. 1950; Marcia (Lowell), b. 1886; Edward Amer, b. 1889; Lucille (Jones), b. 1892.)
Ina Buswell Johnson, wife of William Richard Johnson, born in Illinois. Her parents were Joel Battie Buswell (1834-1905) and Laura Shoemaker Buswell (1843-1936).(The children of Joel Battie and Laura Shoemaker Buswell are: Clark, Emily (Thorpe), Elizabeth (Antrim) and James.)
William Richard Johnson finished ninth grade in Cornell public school.
Graduated from Pontiac High School, Illinois
Taught district school in Illinois
Worked as a cashier in the Cornell bank
Entered Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois
Ina Buswell Johnson and William Richard Johnson graduated from Northwestern, both with degrees in Liberal Arts.
William Richard Johnson worked as a fund raiser for the building campaign of the Y.M.C.A. at the University of Illinois.
Laura Lillian, b. 1920 in Polo, Illinois, graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University, served in the Navy in World War II, awarded M.A. degree from University of Michigan, taught school, married Lt. Col. Clifford L. Woodliff, lived in Polo, Illinois with WRJ at the time of his death.
William Buswell, b. 1908 in Guling (Kuling), later became a Methodist minister in California.
Joel Benjamin, b. 1910 in Nanchang, later became a lawyer in Princeton, New Jersey.
Clark Husted, b. 1913 in Nanchang, later named Foreign Director for McNeil Laboratories, then purchased the Zemmer Company in 1964 and sailed for China (Dec. 9) as a missionary for the Methodist Church.
James Bashford, b. 1915 in Nanchang, graduated from Western Reserve Medical School, served in World War II, eventually practiced medicine in Greencastle, Indiana.
Arrived in Shanghai and was ordained to the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church; began to study the Chinese language.
Pastor and District Superintendent, Nanchang, Jiangxi (Kiangsi) Province.
James Whitford Bashford writes about William Richard Johnson: "one of the ablest representatives of our church in central Asia or in the entire nation." (James W. Bashford was a bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church in China, 1904-1915. See George Richmond Grose, James W. Bashford: Pastor, Educator, Bishop, (New York: The Methodist Book Concern, 1922).
Principal, Nanchang Academy
Furlough. Secretary for Foreign Missions and Stewardship in the Methodist Centenary Movement, Denver, Colorado area.
Assistant Secretary of the Stewardship Dept., Methodist Committee on Conservation and Advance, New York City.
Principal, Nanchang Academy
Red Cross refugee work
Executive Secretary, Kiangsi International Famine Relief, Jiangxi, directing dike repair, famine relief program.
Furlough. Studied at Columbia University; Executive Secretary, China Famine Relief (New York City) during its first financial campaign.
Director of Religious Education, Nanchang Academy
Famine and flood relief work, directed part of the dike repair program financed by the American Wheat and Cotton Loan, 1931-1932.
Made a survey for Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek, outlining a Rural Reconstruction Program for Jiangxi (Kiangsi) Province which was adopted by central government and provincial authorities and put into operation. For Johnson's involvement in the Rural Reconstruction Program see While China Faced West, by James C. Thomson, Jr. (James C. Thomson, Jr. While China Faced West: American Reformers in Nationalist China, 1928-1937. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1969.))
Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Kuling Estate, participating in the rendition ceremonies January 1, 1936. (Kuling Estate was a summer resort which was administrated by the British as a part of the Concession of Kiukiang, but not returned with the Concession, under the Chen-O'Malley Agreement.)
Furlough. Columbia University Teachers College, M.A.
Returned to China without his family. District missionary, largely engaged in war-relief administration: hospitals and relief camps with industrial work and cooperatives.
Lay Superintendent of the Canossa Hospital (later the Majama Hospital), a British Government Hospital for civilian wounded, during the siege of Hong Kong.
Assistant Director, American Red Cross, China Relief Unit, in charge of Hong Kong office.
Prisoner of the Japanese, interned from January 5, 1942 until June 29, 1942 at Stanley Civilian Internment Camp.
Exchanged at Lorenco Marques and returned to U.S. on the "Gripsholm."
Lectured for the U.S.O. in Army and Navy camps, in Rotary International Institutes, for Y.M.C.A. groups, crossing the United States four times. His lectures were arranged largely by the Redpath speakers' bureau.
Speaker for the Community War Fund, Washington, D.C.
Gave 361 addresses in twenty states.
Published various articles regarding China.
Appeared before the Un-American Activities Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, eighty-third Congress.
William Richard Johnson debated this issue through letters, articles and speeches.
"During the course of the Kuomintang's decline, the reformers and their colleagues were soon torn by partisanship. In the war and postwar years, the Protestant missionary community became sharply divided--as did American officials and academics--on the question of loyalty to the Kuomintang regime. On the one side stood such indefatigable spokesmen for the Nationalists as Walter H. Judd ..., William R. Johnson... .Ranged against them were...other American missionaries, whose disillusionment with the Nationalists was intense..."(Thomson, While China Faced West, p. 242.)
Presented with a medal by the Republic of China on behalf of Chiang Kai-shek. The award was given "in recognition of his meritorious contribution." (Box 50, Series V, Folder 19)
Ina Buswell Johnson died in Polo, Illinois.
1967 Jul 19
William Richard Johnson died in Polo, Illinois.

Processing Information

Place names were modernized in the description, with the name originally used in the collection material or in an older version of the finding aid in parenthesis: e.g. “Beijing (Peking)” or “Benin (Dahomey)”.

Guide to the William Richard Johnson Papers
Compiled by Jane S. Thomson
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared According To Local Divinity Library Descriptive Practices
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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